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June 26, 2016

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Blew it out of the water…
$75,642. That is how much we raised this year at the Sponsor’s Dinner Dance. That is the MOST money raised at the dinner dance in my 16 years of being here. KUDOS to Kate Flatley and her team for an AMAZING gift to this parish. We are already using some of those funds for school repairs, as well as replacing the carpet in Fr. Nick’s sitting room and bedroom. (The gentlemen who is doing the installation said he has been in the business 32 years and has never seen the set up for securing the rug that they used. So, my guess is the rug is at least 33 years old…)

Perhaps you remember, but some weeks or so after I became the Pastor here at St. Ann, I shared my experience of ‘life without a map.’ I realized that I had a vision of what life would be as an associate pastor. But I did not have an image in my head about what being a pastor should look like. My “map” had run out.

So, with great patience, you taught me what being a priest/pastor might look like. Leading from the front, not from the side or behind as I was accustomed to doing. Learning how to say “Yes” when I could, and “No” when I had to. (The Fr. Bernie Nienhaus rule of being a pastor.) Learning how St. Ann worked and who did what. Mostly, I think, just learning the rhythm of life and love and service here at St. Ann as we prayed and played and worked together. Long before I got here, you were ‘doing the kingdom of God.’ And long after I leave, God willing, you will still be doing that.

So, thank you for teaching me how to listen and walk with you in that role as pastor. And now, you get to train another ‘rookie’ how to be the chief shepherd of St. Ann Parish. I pray that you are as gentle to him as you were to me.

As I head to St. Justin, it occurs to me that I am again going to a place where I have no preconceived “map”. But because of you, I can walk into that place trusting that God will be there as he was here. Thank you for giving me that confidence. And know that as often as we partake of the one bread and the one cup, we are joined together in that bond we call the Mystical Body of Christ.

Though no one ever really leaves St. Ann, we do move locations. So my new location is:

11910 Eddie and Park Road
Saint Louis, MO 63126
314-843-8482

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June 19, 2016

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hand me downsI suspect most parents learned, with exasperation, all about growth spurts. And how hard it was to keep their children in clothes and shoes that fit. The solutions in the Kempf house, where mom and dad had 5 boys to tend to, were twofold. Hand me downs. I had more than my share of those. And we had clothes that were bought ‘with room to grow’. Mom would put cuffs on those ‘longer than we needed at the moment’ pants, make us wear an extra thick pair of socks with our oversized shoes, and then, when we ‘grew into them’ – would let the cuffs out and give us normal socks, and we’d be fine. It was a practical way to stretch the clothing dollar in the Kempf house. Buying clothes with “Room to grow” was a way to make sure we got all the use we could of the clothes we wore.

Sometimes the most important truths we learn in life take time to “grow into” as well. It takes time, maturity, repeated failures and the resulting life wisdom to understand fully, or to live fully, the deep truths of life. We know that in our relationships. And in our parenting and pastoring. The tasks we are called to do and the people we are invited to be, take time to grow into.

Paul knew that as he set forth these simple, yet profound words that were a gauntlet of challenge for the people of his time. “In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you all are one in Christ.” Many will argue, and correctly, that the church and our society have not yet grown into that set of clothes even now. So it is okay to kill the pre-born, it is okay to put the elderly to death. It is okay to go into an LGTB nightclub in Orlando and start shooting. Corporately and as individuals, we still do not see and stand in that radical equality before God that is ours by grace. We have room to grow.

But even more so, we learn about ‘growing into’ truths in today’s gospel. Peter and the disciples were pretty happy that they had passed the pop quiz. “Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?” They all got the first one right. Simon Peter got the second one correct for them all. But, like a parent with kids in the middle of a growth spurt, Jesus warned them that they had some ‘room to grow’ in WHAT this meant.
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” That is part of what it means to be the messiah. But Jesus does not stop there. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

That is the “growing into” that I need you to be about, Jesus tells his disciples. It is not enough to ascribe to me the title messiah. Anyone can say that. But if you are to be my disciple, then, as I have done and will do, so you must do. That is the growing into the clothes of discipleship Jesus wants us to do. So, what does that look like? We know what cuffed pants and oversized socks look like. But:

Who do I say Jesus is in the usual post Orlando debate about guns and gun violence? Will be another example of people wringing their hands, and feeling sorry, but nothing more happening? Will I lend my voice and vote to likely strategies to prevent even more guns to find their way to the streets?

Who do I say Jesus is in the prejudices I still nurture, the judgments I utter, and the gossip I pass on in the office or at the pool?

Who do I say Jesus is – in the prayers that I say and the time I set aside to spend with the Lord?

Finally, Who do I say Jesus is in the forgiveness I offer my fellow human beings; the charity I extend to those in need, and the compassionate concern I show to those whose life has taken an unexpected turn for the worse?

I never liked that phrase “Room to grow” when I was shopping for clothes with mom. But in my life of faith, it is the only reality that matters. You see, there is ALWAYS room to grow in the life we live as Christians. There is always room to grow in our understanding of the practical consequences of saying Jesus is the messiah.

And you, who do you say Jesus is?

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Wrapping up
In various ways these past weeks, people have asked or commented on a variation of the same question. Sometimes it comes out as: “Why are you leaving?” or “Why does the Arch-bishop move priests around?” Or even “Did you have any say in the transfer?” St. Paul, no stranger to frequent ‘transfers’ himself, had a profound answer to those questions in today’s 2nd reading. He says simply: “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me.”

If this move were just on the ‘human level’ – then it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I am with people whom I love. And two ministries that I love. (And close to the golf course I love.) It is what I have known these past 16 years. Besides, after enduring 2 years of a messed up Natural Bridge, they finally got the street looking lovely… If this world were all that there is, then I would exercise my ‘right’ as a pastor to ‘not be moved without my permission.’

As people of faith, though, we know a bit better, don’t we? “HERE” is not everything. It is a good thing, no doubt, but at the end of the day, we are all just passing through. And like the pledge of celibacy that makes no sense without a referent to the divine plan and the Kingdom of Heaven, the choice to be obedient – the choice to listen to the call of the Holy Spirit when S/He invites me to follow – only makes sense if there is a God. That is the gamble that I have staked my life, as well as my death upon.

If you heard Gary Uthoff’s speech in the parish center, he quoted (impressively) Karl Rahner, one of the great minds and theologians of the last century. “In those moments when we are faced with the question of how we are to cope when things or people are taken from us we can protest, despair, become cynical and cling all the more desperately and absolutely to what has been taken from us. But it is better to abandon with resignation what has been taken from us and accept them as events of grace.”

I do trust this is an event of grace. And like St. Paul, I try to live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me. Because I have experienced how well Jesus has loved me, and how well you have loved me, I can go forward in great confidence. Thank you for that gift.

Let me leave you with one quote that my classmate put on the ‘memorial card’ for his ordination/first mass weekend.
“The will of God will not lead you where the power of God will not sustain you.” St. Augustine

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fox and dogSo, if you had to choose a word/phrase, what would it be? When I shared this gospel question with my brother Joe, (the nice priest in the Kempf family), he too quickly suggested the word “Interminable.”
I decided at that point not to ask the rest of my siblings…

(Full disclosure, I chose two words.) The first word I chose is the obvious word. GRATEFUL. I am so grateful for having been able to live over half of my priesthood among you. I am so grateful to have been shaped and formed by you; to have been invited to be a part of your lives; to be able to share in family celebrations and weddings and funerals and all the stages in between. I am so grateful for your generous welcome. I am grateful for your forgiveness when I was less than I could be and what you needed me to be for you. And I am so grateful for the faith which I see in your hearts and lives. What a gift you are! What a gift you are!

The not so obvious choice, though, that bubbled up in me is HAUNTED. Living here for 16 years, I can tell you with certainty that St. Ann parish is haunted.
Some of the ghosts who haunt this place have names.
• Ann Lucas Hunt, Fr. Peter DeSmet, Fr. Adrian Van Hulst – the ‘trinity’ of believers who set the course for this parish 160 years ago.
• Msgr. Fred Sprenke – who hated soccer, but whose tournament continues some 55 years later…
• And then there are the more recent graduates into that cadre of spirits: Mike Britt, Pat Boul, Betty and now Don Muckermann, Mary Ann and now Gerry Quinlisk, Norm Jacob, Joan Russell, Emma Jane Philipp, David O’Keeffe – and so many of our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest – and yet who’s spirits still fill this church with their love.

Some of the “spirits” are still living. And they haunt us by their faithful, but often unseen ministry among us. The members of the Vincent de Paul Society; the Scout leaders and heavenly dusters and grass cutters and cemetery workers and flower keepers and choir members and table setter uppers and prayer pals and daily mass attendees and children’s liturgy of the word leaders and dedicated faculty and staff at our school and preschool and rectory, and ACA workers and finance council members and the 5 and 11 am choirs and the floor-moppers and bartenders and … (you get the idea) We are so wonderfully haunted by their love and service.

As I take my leave of this place – I hope my ‘spirit’ will be around to haunt you as well – so that you will know the God:
• of high fives and “head bonkings” (as one of the kids called it)
• of laughter and lightheartedness, of singing and praying
• of surprises and calls to serve God – not on our terms, but on his,
• and who is so incredibly faithful to us.
That is what allowed St. Paul to be so often on the road, so often leaving to proclaim the good news in new places. Because he knew Jesus’ presence in concrete ways, he could say with great confidence: I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me. And I can say: I live by Faith in the son of God who has loved me so well through you!

And finally, I hope you are haunted, as I have been, by this one last little story…

It was a sleepy Saturday morning in the vale. There was a man sitting on his front porch whittling. His dog was lounging lazily at his feet. Suddenly, he became completely alert as he caught first the scent, and then the sight of a fox way down at the end of the meadow. With a nod from his master, like a shot, he’s off. Baying and barking. Following the scent of the fox, now long disappeared from view. One by one, other dogs began to join in the noise and the baying and barking. They ran through forests and trees and streams and puddles. Ran on and on as a pack until their paws were sore and their tongues were hanging out from exhaustion. And one by one the other dogs dropped out. Finally, it was just the first dog, still on the trail, still barking. A neighbor stopped by. Wasn’t that your dog at the head of the pack. “Yup.” How come he is the only one left? “I reckon it is because he is the only one who saw the fox…”
“…he is the only one who saw the fox…”

I trust you know that I have never been anything but a barking dog. But I hope that you would come to believe in what I have seen –a Savior’s unconditional love. I hope you have come to know a bit of our Lord’s love for you through me. Don’t stop on that journey just because this barking dog is hunting in other fields. Make sure that you too, become people who have seen the fox…

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June 12, 2016

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At my farewell at the Newman Center on Tuesday night, Erin Duffy composed a prayer of blessing and had members of the community pray them over me. I was undone. I had managed to hold it together as various people told stories and shared anecdotes of our time together at the Center. (just barely) And then they started praying over me…

I learned again the truth of the quote from Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings: “Not all tears are evil…”

I share that prayer here, because it also reflects my own prayer for both the Newman Center folks and you, the people of St. Ann.

May you know, always, that you are loved.
May you know your impact, that your actions, your love and your presence has touched the lives of so many.
May you have faith, that you are exactly where you need to be, and are going exactly where you need to go.
May you have hope, that all things are being made new and that on this servant path, all your needs are being cared for.
May you journey with hands wide open, receiving all that God is providing, in every moment.
May you walk in safety, in humility, in peace and in joy.
May carry this community in your heart, as we carry you in our hearts.
We thank you, we bless you, we send you forth as you continue the work of God, as you continue to build the kingdom of God here among us.
We ask all of this through Christ our Lord, and through the intercession of Blessed John Cardinal Henry New-man…. Amen … … … … …

Finally, to answer the most asked question of recent days:

I will officially leave sometime the week of June 27. I have to report to St. Justin at some point on the 30th, and my first mass there will be July 1st. The exact date depends on when Fr. Weber moves out of his rooms (soon to be mine) and they do some painting of the rectory. That date depends on when the priest who is at the parish where he is going moves out which depends on when that priest can move into his place which…. So, by June 30th at the latest…

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Of many things…

For some people, the way to their heart is through their stomach. For me, it has always been my ears. I remember crying one night on a drive home when I heard the Celtic Women’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” the first time. It was so incredibly beautiful.

Music has always had that power over me. I was one of the few boys in my grade school choir. My brothers would make fun of me for singing while I was doing the dishes. I took up guitar so that I could accompany myself and others in that favorite pastime of singing. And I am heir to a huge gift liturgically here at St. Ann in our various choirs. I close my eyes and I can still hear the 11 am choir singing that old spiritual: “Over my head, I hear music in the air; there must be a God somewhere!” For so I do – I hear the music and know the goodness of God.

For 16 years, the parish family of St. Ann has been blessed with an amazing volunteer choir. And an even more amaz-ing volunteer Choir Director – Mrs. Kathy Reid. The energy and enthusiasm and prayer she brings forth from the choir as they lead us in sacred song simply takes my breath away. How well you sing with them brings a smile to my heart. And the things she has our Children’s choir doing is equally outstanding. She is an example of what happens when you let God use you.

And, after 16 years, she is stepping down from that role of 11 a.m. volunteer Choir Director at the end of this month. That will be a huge director’s wand to fill.

I have begun a search process. Part time choir directors are not always the easiest to find. In the short term, Mrs. Kate Garrett and Ms. Catherine Tobben will be filling in on most of the Sundays in June. There will be some times when Don Muckerman and Barbara Jackson will be filling in. Yet, I do trust that God is preparing exactly the right person to step into this role. Just as He has with new principals and new secretaries and new teachers and every-thing that has been necessary to keep this parish alive and growing and vibrant. I will work with Fr. Winker throughout the process, and, God willing, we will have another amazing director in place soon…

Kathy, from the bottom of this pastor’s heart – thank you for your years of service. What a gift you have been to all of us!!!

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June 5, 2016

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